“Black Friday” is the name given in America to the day after Thanksgiving, and the traditional commencement of the Christmas shopping period. The term came into use in Philadelphia in the 1960s to signify it as a dark day. A day of chaos and disruption, traffic jams and injuries; a day to be feared and shunned, echoing the original Black Friday of September 24, 1869 (the Fisk/Gould scandal that caused a catastrophe in the stock markets). [* According to newspapers and publications of the day, this was the primary usage in 1966]

In more recent years, as the term spread through North America, it has been rebranded as the day retailers start to turn a profit for the year – to go “into the black” – though this explanation is merely a superficial fiction in most cases [* According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, 1981]. Any retailer who remains in the red for nearly a full eleven months of the year, is likely already on the verge of collapse.

Nomenclature aside, Black Friday has co-evolved with the shopping habits of North Americans, and Black Friday as we see it today is indelibly stamped with the logistics of purely physical goods.

Physical goods must be manufactured, and in quantity. They must be priced appropriately and advertising prepared and printed. They must distributed to retailers, stocked on shelves, in bins, or stacked on the floor. The sheer focus of such forces – and those of the purchasing public through this part of the year – distorts every aspect of production, distribution, retail and marketing associated with them, like gravity twisting up space-time.

These forces, and the focused bulk manufacture and distribution allow economies of brobdignagian scale that allow physical goods – manufactured, distributed and sold within certain periods of the year – to be sold at prices that might normally generate a loss at other times of the year.

For many goods, Black Friday is practically the last day you’ll see them for the calendar year. Manufacturing resources are exhausted and stocks are stretched thin in a spectacular and sweaty orgy of supply and demand. Get it now, or you may miss your chance until the following year, unless you’re willing to pay premium prices at auction.

Virtual goods, on the other hand – from MP3s and pay-per-view movies to avatar outfits, and digital downloads – suffer from no such constraints.

Virtual goods are always on; Always available; Infinitely replicable at zero additional cost; Never in short supply – unless supply is intentionally constrained.

Virtual goods don’t cost any more or any less to provide singly or in bulk – though sometimes there are bulk discounts, simply because that’s the way we’re used to buying things.

The very notion of seasonal sales of virtual goods (as anything other than gifts) doesn’t actually make any sense at all. If you can afford to sell a virtual item at X price on Black Friday, then the per-unit profit is the same any other day of the year, unlike what we see with the Black Friday economies of scale for physical goods.

Short-term sales for virtual-goods can certainly bring in a sudden influx of revenue, provide valuable marketing opportunities and allow you to test the price-sensitivity of your markets, and see if your goods are really priced appropriately – and really, that’s the sort of empirical testing that you should be performing on a relatively routine basis as a virtual goods retailer. That such a thing should be tied to a particular part of the calendar year, however is quite a bit more specious.

At its very best, the notion that we could have a Black Friday – or if you prefer, a ‘Cyber Monday’ – for virtual goods is just an attempt to tap into and exploit our ingrained shopping habits and retail instincts which, for so very long, have been accustomed to purely physical purchases.

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